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Congolese refugees in Uganda recount horror stories

Due to ongoing violence, many have fled DR Congo to Uganda in recent months

Congolese refugees in Uganda recount horror stories

By Halima Athumani


At 5:00 pm on Friday, an engine boat approached Sebagoro Landing site with the beaten and exhausted faces of a group of 30 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them women and children.

One by one they disembark from the boat with their heavy luggage as Ugandan security welcomes them. Eager to leave the horror behind, they quickly go through the security check and the disinfection routine by health officials.

“When they come, they kill people, chase and loot people’s property,” said Bativ Waladu.

He added: “They use axes to hack people, they come with spears, arrows and machetes. They then use the axe to cut apart the dead person’s feet, you can’t stay behind and wait to die like that.”

Many of those arriving at the landing site in Hoima, southwestern Uganda, are from the Djugu Territory Ituri Province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Regina Nehema, who ran away with her three children, says they had to hide in the bush for a month before finding a boat to get them to Uganda.

“It’s been tough hiding with my children in the forest. We would sleep part of the day and then move in the night so the killers don’t get us,” she said.

State of fear

Many of the survivors have been living in a state of fear and have questions they say their own government isn’t responding to either.

Joel Atte said: “We don’t know why they are killing people yet our politicians are quiet about it.”

One night, he recalled: “They attacked our village in Tchomia and killed 30 people. I ran off with nothing, I don’t know where my wife and other children are.”

Ethnic clashes between Nzafi’s Hema community and the Lendu ethnic group in Congo’s northeast have led to 150 deaths, according to humanitarian agencies.

The UN High Commission for Refugees and the Uganda government indicate over 50,000 Congolese have fled into Uganda.

Tam Daniel Roger, a UNHCR field officer at Sebagoro Landing, said most of the people who arrive are traumatized from the violence. “Some come very weak because of the long journey and lack of food along the way.”

He added that there have been a few cases of boats capsizing in Lake Albert. The UN agency says several people have lost their lives en route to Uganda fleeing the violence.

“Many use rickety boats that not only carry human beings but cattle such as goats, chicken, and cows, so overloading the boats,” he said.

During previous fighting, the Hema say they would get anonymous letters warning them of impending attacks saying: “Get ready, we’re coming.”

Jean-Paul Sorogani said now the attacks happen spontaneously. “Our country is on fire, people are dying, the rebels come and kill women, children, babies, and men, they kill everyone. They say they are killing because they want their land.”

He painfully recalled: “On that day they came in the night and started killing people, I was inside the house and heard people crying outside. When I came to look I found all my neighbors had been cut with machetes, I ran off.”

Humanitarian agencies in Uganda say since January they have received 61,537 Congolese.

In a statement, Irene Nakasita of the Uganda Red Cross Society said: “The numbers are above the 2018 operational planning figure of 60,000 new arrivals from the DRC and our resources are strained.”

Of the total number of DRC refugees since Jan. 1, some 41,736 are from Ituri, and 19,801 from North Kivu.

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